All eyes will be on Japan and Rugby World Cup in six weeks' time but, for this weekend, the focus for the southern hemisphere's leading teams will be firmly on events in Perth and Salta.
Perth has never hosted a Bledisloe Cup match in the trophy’s 116-year history and tickets were snapped up in record time after Optus Stadium sold out more than nine months ago. Australia and New Zealand go into the match, which serves as part of a double-header with the women's international, with a chance of winning the title but both would require the table-topping Springboks to slip up away to Argentina in Salta.
No team has lifted the Rugby Championship/Tri-Nations trophy in the same year as the Webb Ellis Cup but all three of the silverware-chasing teams would love nothing more than to rewrite history and potentially give their World Rugby Ranking a boost as the game's marquee tournament looms ever closer.
AUSTRALIA (6) v NEW ZEALAND (1)
Michael Cheika has made four changes to his starting XV ahead of Saturday' Bledisloe Cup opener with New Zealand at Optus Stadium in Perth.
Brumbies' Players' Player of the Year Allan Alaalatoa will return to the international arena for the first time in 2019 at tight-head prop and is joined in the front-row by hooker Tolu Latu with Folau Fainga’a shifting to the bench, while Nic White and Christian Lealiifano start a test together for the first time, although they have a long history of playing alongside each other with the Brumbies in Super Rugby.
Utility back James O’Connor will also earn his first test start since September 2013, and it also marks his first start in the centres following an international career that has covered nearly every position in the backline.
Steve Hansen has opted to persist with playing Richie Mo'unga at fly-half and Beauden Barrett at full-back but has given Ardie Savea in his first starting role in the number six jersey. Sam Cane is at openside flanker, with Matt Todd dropping to the replacements.
In the backs, Aaron Smith starts at half-back, with TJ Perenara as cover, while Anton Lienert-Brown will make his fourth start at inside centre.
- This is the first of two Bledisloe Cup matches in 2019. New Zealand have held the trophy since 2003
- A minute's silence will take place before the match as a mark of respect for former All Blacks coach and World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Sir Brian Lochore who died last weekend
- New Zealand and Australia will be playing their 165th test against each other. New Zealand have won 114 of those matches, Australia 43 with seven draws
- New Zealand have won 10 of the last 11 matches between the sides – the exception being Australia’s 23-18 win in Brisbane in October 2017
- The last match between the two sides was a 37-20 win for the All Blacks at Yokohama Stadium in Japan in October last year
- In their last outing against South Africa, the All Blacks became the first team in test rugby history to score more than 16,000 points
- New Zealand will surrender top spot if they fail to win and Wales also beat England at Twickenham
- They could, though, more than double their cushion at the top of the rankings depending on results in Perth, Dublin and London
- Australia can only improve their ranking if they win by more than 15 points and South Africa lose by the same margin in Argentina
ARGENTINA (10) v SOUTH AFRICA (4)
Los Pumas head coach Mario Ledesma welcomes back talismanic hooker Agustin Creevy in a pack showing four changes to the one beaten 16-10 by Australia. Former captain Creevy, who missed that loss with a shoulder injury, comes in for Julian Montoya, who drops to the bench. Matias Alemanno and Marcos Kremer will make up the second-row pairing, taking over from Guido Petti and Tomas Lavanini, while Javier Ortega Desio replaces Tomas Lezana at flanker.
The only change in the backline sees Emiliano Boffelli return at full-back with Joaquin Tuculet having to settle for a place on the bench. Fellow replacement Ben Urdapilleta will provide cover for both the fly-half and full-back positions, and should he take to the field will win his first cap since June 2013.
Tendai Mtawarira, Bongi Mbonambi and Trevor Nyakane will pack down in the Springbok front row when South Africa face Argentina in the third and final Rugby Championship encounter in Salta on Saturday. The reshuffled front row is the only change to the starting XV from the one that held defending champions New Zealand to a thrilling 16-16 draw in Wellington a fortnight ago.
Duane Vermeulen will again lead the Springboks as captain for this decisive encounter in the high altitude of Salta. Mtawarira, the most experienced Springbok prop in history, and Nyakane replace Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe, while Mbonambi takes over the hooker duties from Malcolm Marx. All three front rankers who started the test at the Westpac Stadium in the New Zealand capital are due to make an impact off the bench against the Pumas on Saturday.
- The two teams are due to meet each other again next week again in Pretoria in an RWC 2019 warm-up fixture
- This is the 29th meeting between the teams. South Africa leads the head-to-head 24-3 with one draw
- South Africa and Argentina have played three times before in Salta. The first test, in 2014, was won 33-31 by the Springboks, while the Pumas won the second encounter at the Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena in 2016, also by two points (26-24)
- Overall, the Springboks have played 14 tests in Argentina against the Pumas, with 11 victories, two defeats and one draw
- Argentina will be on the hunt for back-to-back wins against South Africa for the first time after picking up a 32-19 win in their last encounter
- Argentina’s only victory in their last 10 tests on home soil came against South Africa in August 2018
- Tendai Mtawarira will join Rugby World Cup winner Bryan Habana on 53 appearances in the Rugby Championship to equal the Springbok caps record in the southern hemisphere competition
- The Springboks could finish the weekend in third place if they win in tandem with defeat for England and a loss by more than 15 points for Ireland
- South Africa will drop below England again if both sides win this weekend
- South Africa can drop to sixth if they lose by more than 15 points and Australia beat New Zealand by the same margin
- Argentina will climb above Fiji into ninth with victory, even if Fiji also beat Samoa
- Argentina will slip out of the top 10 if they lose and Fiji and Japan both win
The World Rugby Rankings update every Monday at 12:00 UK time.
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